The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Rufina Nave – Oldest American Citizen By Choice

In 1972, Mogeetown in Plymouth Township was a center of attention for the nation.

It was during that year that the oldest person to become an American citizen by choice – the oldest person to be naturalized as an American citizen – took the oath of citizenship.

She was Rufina Nave.

Of Mogeetown.

The little village located next to Norristown and down the pike from Black Horse was home to a number of Italian-Americans.

Rufina Nave was born in Italy in 1867.

She raised seven children in Italy, much of the time as a single mother;  her husband had died in 1912, according to a news article dated February 12, 1972, in The Latrobe Bulletin.

Rufina Nave lived in Casalduni in Campania in Italy.  According to a news article dated February 12, 1972, in The Daily News of Huntingdon and Mount Union (Pennsylvania), Rufina Nave “worked a small nine-acre farm near Naples until she came to America.”

She emigrated from Italy to the United States of America in 1954.

Rufina Nave lived in Casalduni in Campania, Italy (highlighted in light red in the map above with approximate site of Casalduni circled in darker red).
A portion of the Italian passport of Rufina Nave.
Mrs. Rufina Nave, second from the right, is seen here with family members in their backyard in Mogeetown.  Also in the photograph, from the left, are Mr. Joseph Nave of Mogeetown, son of Mr. Salvatore Nave and grandson of Mrs. Rufina Nave;  Mrs. Catherine (Nave) Pasture of New Jersey;  Mrs. Rufina Nave;  and Mr. Salvatore Nave of Mogeetown, son of Mrs. Rufina Nave.
This is a copy of the petition to the United States Department of Justice by Rufina Nave to become an American citizen.

The decision of Rufina Nave to become an American citizen was national news throughout the United States.

From The New York Times to The Arizona Daily Star, the actions of one woman in Plymouth Township were recognized as important to the entire country.

That people like Rufina Nave – no matter their age – still yearn to become American citizens.

“She loved this country,” stated Mr. Anthony Nave of Perkiomen Township.  Mr. Nave, a grandson of Rufina Nave, helped get the paperwork done so that his grandmother could become an American citizen.

“My grandmom wanted to become an American citizen before she died,” explained Mr. Nave.  Mr. Anthony Nave, son of Mr. Anthony Nave and great-grandson of Rufina Nave, confirmed his great-grandmother’s love of this country.  “She was so happy to become an American citizen.”

Rufina Nave was fluent in Italian, but not so much in the English language.

During the citizenship test, when asked by the examiner who was the President of the United States, she responded “Nicki”.

As in “Nixon”.  Richard Nixon.  President Richard Nixon.

“Grandmom could not pronounce the “x” in “Nixon” so well,” explained Mr. Anthony Nave, the grandson.  “So it came out as ‘Nicki’.”

Not a problem.  The examiner confirmed that Rufina Nave had passed the citizenship test.

A few days later, her petition to become a citizen was approved by the Department of Justice of the United States of America.

On March 1, 1972, Rufina Nave became an American Citizen.

The Daily News in New York City took note of the occasion of Rufina Nave taking the oath of citizenship as she became an American citizen.  In a news article dated March 3, 1972, the newspaper reported her response to the oath in which she was asked to support and defend the constitution, among other commitments:

“‘I will,’ Mrs. Rufina Nave said quietly.  She lowered her right hand and then began to cry.

The ceremony marked the naturalization of the oldest person ever to become a United States citizen.  Mrs. Nave, a native of Italy, is 104.”

The newspaper article noted that Federal officials offered to have her take the oath of citizenship in a private ceremony in her home in Mogeetown, but Rufina Nave declined.

Instead, Rufina Nave with family members went to the Montgomery County Court House in Norristown so that she could take the oath of citizenship in a public ceremony.

The Tampa Tribune included a news article about Rufina Nave under the headline of “Newsmakers” on March 3, 1972:  “Especially decked out in a purple dress and giggling, not looking a bit her age she [Rufina Nave] delighted a roomful of newsmen and photographers.”

(To put this news in perspective, the other “Newsmakers” noted in the news article by The Tampa Tribune that day included news of the death of the conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the appointment of the Deputy Director of the CIA.)

In the edition of the Dayton Daily News of Ohio dated March 2, 1972, a news article detailed the occasion in Norristown where the “United States Gets Its Oldest Naturalized Citizen”;  the next news article, to put the news of Rufina Nave in perspective, noted the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Malaysia.

The family of Rufina Nave, according to the Daily News in New York City, included 4 children, 23 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.

According to a news article dated March 2, 1972, in the Orlando Evening Star, with the oath of citizenship by Rufina Nave, all of the members of the Nave family were now citizens of the United States of America.  The individual members either had been born in this country as citizens or had been naturalized as citizens.

The headline of a news article dated March 2, 1972, in the Independent-Journal of San Rafael, California, said it all:  “Real Senior Citizen”.

Rufina Nave died in 1973, the year after becoming an American citizen.

She is buried with one of her sons, Salvatore, and his wife, Maria, in Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in East Norriton.

While alive, Rufina Nave retained the title of the Oldest American Citizen By Choice.

Since her passing, there have been a few people older than her that have become naturalized citizens.

But for at least a year, Mogeetown was the home of a special lady who was proud to call herself an American citizen, Rufina Nave.

The final resting spot for Rufina Nave, a proud American citizen, is in Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in East Norriton. She is here with her son, Salvatore, and his wife, Maria.

As noted, in the years since Rufina Nave passed, there have been a few people older than her who have become American citizens by choice.  According to a quote attributed to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Marilu Cabrera by The Daily Mail in a news article dated January 14, 2012, the oldest Americans by choice were a 117-year-old woman born in Turkey who became an American citizen in 1997, and a 111-year-old woman born in Iraq who became an American citizen in 2012.  The Washington Post reported that a 106-year-old woman born in El Salvador became an American citizen in 2018.

Each of these women made the decision to come to these shores – whether from Italy, El Salvador, Iraq, or Turkey – to become Americans.

To become citizens of the United States of America.

The photographs of the Nave family and the images of the documents are provided courtesy of Mr. Anthony Nave.

The map of Italy is provided courtesy of Google, 2018.

The photograph of the gravestone for the Nave Family is provided by catncamo, 2013.

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© 2019 Richard McDonough